Wednesday, December 30, 2009
The kids were going on a trail ride in the afternoon, and I was hoping to tag along and ride with my niece - a first for me. A couple of my adult riding friends, CH and RB, were joining the group, too. I actually got tacked up with Western gear in 10 minutes - a first for me!
Gem was a little antsy and raring to go. There had been freezing rain a couple of days previously which had formed a crust on the snow. Gem was curious and cautious as we started out.
My niece was having a great time. The younger riders were lined up behind LA and the three adults were at the back of the line chatting. I am still a little green when it comes to trail riding so walking, talking and the occasional trot is good enough for me. Gem and I have been together 7 months now and I am just learning how to canter/lope. OK, I know - perhaps slow learning by some standards, but I am not in a rush.
We came to a clearing and LA started to trot across it with the four day campers right behind her. My friend, CH, trotted after the campers. I was next in line and RB was behind me. I held Gem back as I didn't feel comfortable with trotting. As I was trying to maneuver Gem to the side, he started to resist me and then the next thing I knew we went from neutral to 4th gear; from standing to a lope - a first for me.
I have no recollection of how I was holding my reins, and I suspect that my feet were no longer in stirrups. My helmet was simultaneously giving me a concussion and choking me to death with every movement that Gem made. The world was going by me at high speed. I grabbed for the horn desperately hoping that a brake might have magically been installed since the last time I used this saddle. Nope. Just when I thought it couldn't get any more crazy, the next thing I "felt" was Gem powering up and then we were galloping - a first for me.
As we were pounding through the snow, my brain registered that we were heading for a small opening which lead to the next clearing. I could just make out the day campers on the other side of the opening. Holy crap. Within a nano-second, I was able to compute my chances of actually making it through the opening without injury to myself or Gem or the riders lounging on the other side. It didn't look good. Gem helped seal my decision. He came down hard which caused me to slip even further off balance to the right. With my left hand, I used the horn to push myself off of Gem and for a very brief moment, I was flying - a first for me.
My knee hit first, then my elbow, then my shoulder, then my head. The snow looked pristine, but it felt very hard and crispy when I hit. I carefully checked that my legs could move and that I could move my head. I heard RB yelling. He dismounted and came over to me. I got up slowly, dusted myself off. RB helped me back on to the track and we walked over to the group. Gem had made it to the day campers and had stopped.
I was prepared to hand walk Gem back to the barn. LA put a stop to that. She made me mount Gem FROM THE GROUND. I made it on the second attempt - a first for me. The rest of the ride was, thankfully, uneventful.
It's done now. No more wondering about it. I experienced falling off a horse - a first for me. I have some very nice bruises on my knee, leg and elbow. My body is a bit stiff, but I've felt worse. My niece did not see me fall, but she said she heard me scream like a girl. :-) RB said I made a lovely snow angel when I landed.
What was I thinking...?
Saturday, December 26, 2009
Being a new mom, I called the stables to check on Gem. Apparently, he's a little grumpy that he can't go outside today. I feel better knowing that he's not slipping around out there. :-)
I just checked outside again. It is sleeting now, quite heavily. I hope that this weather clears up by tomorrow. My sister is having 25 people over for dinner; we will be picking up my folks and making the 40 minute drive. I don't relish the thought of having to drive in this stuff!
I am glad that I am curled up on the couch with my dogs today. If you are suffering with the same weather, please take care if you have to go out!
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Monday, December 21, 2009
LA suggested that if I could manage it, to lunge him regularly. It would help build a bond and reinforce manners. No problem. One day, I was having a hard time shifting the stick shift of my car. It was painful. By the end of the day, my elbow was aching. I couldn’t figure out what the heck was going on. Jean had to drive me to lesson that night. The next time I went to lunge Gem, I realized why I was having problems with my arm. His constant tugging on the line and the movement of the lunge whip had strained my elbow. I needed to learn to relax and have a soft supple hand!
By the time I had my 3rd lesson on Gem, I only had about 500 butterflies in my stomach instead of 1000. I still wasn't used to his size, but I was starting to get used to his large movement when he was walking. It was time to get it up to a trot. I cued him. Nothing. Again. Nothing. He was totally blowing me off. “You cannot hurt this guy. Give him a kick to get his attention”, LA said. I kicked! He turned his head and looked at me and when I queued him again, he trotted.
LA: “Loosen your grip. You are hanging on to those reins way too tightly. Relax. Soften your hands and your shoulders.”
Me: “Oh, OK. I need to have the birds in my hands.” (see Winter)
LA: “You have birds in your hands???”
Me: “Yes, I have to pretend I have birds in my hands to stop my death grip.”
LA: “OK, then. I’m telling you, you are killing those birds.”
Me: “I will work harder not to.”
His trot was big and every once and a while, he would do this little “skip” that would throw me off balance. His pace was uneven and I was bouncing all over the place. Sometimes my legs would have contact, sometimes not. He would start to bend away from the wall while we were trotting. I was just trying to stay calm and stay on.
“Sit back. You are leaning forward. Head up and look where you are going. And, stop hurting those birds!”
While driving to work the next day, I went through the lesson in my mind and noticed that I had a death grip on the steering wheel. I started pretending that I had birds in my hands when I was driving. Over time, I realized that my shoulders would relax and I could “feel” the car as I was driving. It was a good exercise for me and Gem benefited from it. My hands were more relaxed when I rode Gem and I started feeling when he “released” and stopped resisting the bit (not sure if that’s the right terminology!). My lunging improved. I wasn't being jerked or tugged off balance because I wasn't resisting. Once again I was grateful for the birds.
I had been taking lessons for a month or so and was still working hard at trying to maintain my balance while Gem and I trotted around the arena. One particular time, I gathered up my reins and queued him. He started off, but tripped over his own two feet, stumbled and went right down to his knees. I actually relaxed my body and let the reins slide through my hands as he stretched his neck going down, but I did not let go of them completely. I leaned back as he went down. Gem righted himself (he was not hurt) and I gathered up the reins. "You must have a natural survival instinct!" LA said. "Most people would have gone right over their horse's neck in that situation." I thanked her and started Gem off on a trot again. In reality, the birds played a big part in the outcome of this incident. If my hands had not been so much more relaxed, the reins may not have slid through my hands as easily as they did. If they hadn't slid through my hands as easily as they did, my death grip on the reins would have ensured that I would have been pulled forward and catapulted over his head as he went down. Thank goodness for those birds.
Wait a sec.....did she say I almost fell?????
What was I thinking….?
Friday, December 18, 2009
In general, Gem was pretty darn good when I was getting him ready. He stood patiently, lifted his feet nicely and had no issues with the bridle. But, he was not used to being in a stall. I could tell he was on edge. LA told me she would show me how to lunge him to help burn off some of the pent up energy he had. In the meantime, I was spending as much time as I could with him. I was working on “bonding”.
Gem's bottom lip is pink. If you look at him straight on, it looks like he is smiling. So cute. One day, while I was keeping him company, he lowered his head over the stall door and let me scratch behind his ear. I interpreted lowering his head as a sign of relaxation and acceptance. His eyes started to close a little and his pink lip quivered ever so slightly. Breakthrough?! Was he accepting my company? Were we becoming friends? I stepped a little closer as I continued scratching, thinking that this moment of connection may even include some sort of hug between us. As I leaned closer, someone walked into the barn. He snapped back his head (someone's here!), hitting me squarely on the nose. I stumbled back, holding my face. I staggered around, wiping away tears and waiting for the gush of blood. I did not have a nosebleed, but my nose felt “bruised” for days afterwards. My lip was a little sore from my teeth being driven into it by the impact. Who would have thought you could be hurt by your horse when he's in the stall and you are in the aisle???
During this bonding period, I discovered that Gem was a mouther. He was constantly moving his mouth over your clothing, your hands, blankets, anything within reach. I recalled his previous owner telling me that she would treat him all the time and that he could find stuff in her pockets. Oh, boy. He kissed the air as you walked by. And what the heck is this Flehmen response thingy??? I almost had a heart attack the first time he did that while I stood in front of him. Most times the mouthing was gentle, but irritating. Sometimes, if you were not paying attention to him, his teeth would connect with flesh – not hard, but a connection none the less. Look at me. LOOK AT ME! At first, I thought it was because he was scared and looking for reassurance. Both the vet and the farrier said it was a sign of intelligence and curiosity. But, enough is enough! I don’t mind curiosity – that’s one of the things I love about my terriers. But, if connecting with flesh was an outcome of this behaviour, it was not acceptable. I did not want to have to do the Chicken Dance for the next 20 years!
When his mouthing got annoying while grooming him, I started correcting him by either elbowing him or bopping him under the chin and saying “NO!” right in his face. His eyes would widen. I could almost hear him thinking “who the heck IS this crazy person?” Amazingly, his face would get a sad little kid look, making my heart melt. Be strong! He’s playing you!
He was a celebrity at the stables. He was big and riders would come over and visit. I was still trying to figure out barn etiquette and I was a little intimidated at first by “experts” stopping by. I would warn them about his mouthing and ask that they not touch his head. They would touch his head anyway and if he mouthed them, they smacked him. What the heck??!! I would put this behaviour in the same category as me smacking their child because I thought the child was being bad. On two separate occasions I had adults tell me, after I saw them smack my horse a number of times in head, that he had to be corrected when they touched him. I said, “There is a very simple solution. DON’T TOUCH HIM.” I made my point. I did not want him to become head shy. Having others assaulting my horse did not sit well with me. LA and STA were the only two I trusted to discipline Gem in a way I felt comfortable with.
I asked LA if she could ride and evaluate Gem so that my lessons could be geared towards what he needed and what I needed. She warned me that I might not like seeing her on him, because she was not going to let him get away with anything. I was absolutely OK with that.
LA got on Gem from the ground - yes, from the ground. I am sure my mouth dropped open. She's a little taller than me (I'm 5'7"), but I swear that her foot was up around her ear when she put it in the stirrup! Wow. She rode him for about ½ hour, pushing him, correcting him. She got him up to a canter. It was wonderful to see him working; he was getting into it. After her ride, she told me that she liked him, but that he was probably going to be a challenge for me over the next while because he was an 18-wheeler as opposed to a pick-up truck; it was probably going to take twice the effort on my part to get him moving. 18-wheeler, eh?
What was I thinking….?
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Something that is valued for its beauty or perfection
Held to be a perfect example
Brilliant and precious as a piece of jewelry
This description fit the bill in my mind. :-)
The date of my first lesson riding Gem was approaching and I was getting nervous. To take my mind off of my anxiety, I did what I usually do. I went shopping! Funny how being around horses changes your priorities. In the olden days, I would have gone to my favourite shop and bought a couple of outfits for work or partying, or perhaps something sparkly. No longer the case....off to my local tack store I went! I purchased a summer weight pair of breeches (still could not find tummy control version), a beautiful LARGE bridle, 5 1/2” bit and a bright red saddle pad. I went to the hardware store and bought the highest rubber two-step stepping stool they had. My shopping therapy did not help, however.
Jean had moved over to my new place and was taking lessons with me. I was glad for the company. We had both taken one lesson already on school horses so LA could evaluate our skill level. The time had come to have my first lesson on Gem. During the 40 minute drive (rush hour traffic) out to the stables, I thought of a number of reasons why I shouldn’t ride him.
He’s still disoriented and still needs time to get used to his surroundings.
He’s too frisky from being in a stall part-time.
He’s not used to me yet.
He’s too excited about the other horses.
He needs his feet done.
The sun is shining.
He’s still furry.
HE’S TOO BIG.
LA suggested that we have our first couple of lessons in the arena, so that Gem would not be distracted by the other horses in the pasture. Tacking up was no problem. As we got to the open barn door, Gem pushed his way out. Are we going out?! Where are we going?! Whose going to be there?! I had a bit of a time getting him under control. As we opened the gate, he rushed me again causing me to stumble. He basically pushed or pulled me all the way down the lane to the arena. I had never experienced this before and had no clue how to handle it.
Time to get on. I pulled my new ladder over to him. It was still a reach for me to get my foot in the stirrup and I did have to assist myself by using my left hand to bend my knee even further. I was quite impressed that I was able to balance on one leg while standing on ladder. I was also impressed that I could actually bend my leg that much! He stood quietly as I mounted. I didn’t kick his rump as I swung my leg over. A good sign? My heart was pounding. My sports bra seemed too tight - OK, yes, it's always too tight. I don't think I was breathing. Being that high up gave you a whole new perspective. I could actually look down into the arena stalls, freaking out a couple of the horses. LA saw that I had no colour left in my face. Jean was given trotting exercises to do and LA came over and took hold of the reins near the bit and started walking me around the arena. We talked as she lead me around. I was relieved when our time was up. I swung my right leg over him, kicked out my left foot from the stirrup and started to slide down...and down...and down. There was a brief moment when I was gripping my saddle for dear life with my feet dangling, swishing around looking for solid ground.
That's pretty much how my first lesson went on Gem; I sat on him while LA walked me around the arena. It was also pretty much how my second lesson went.
What was I thinking.....?
Thursday, December 10, 2009
The most stressful thing for me was the board situation. Within a two week period, the board rate increased an additional $180/month and the availability of space became an issue. I now owned a horse, but could no longer afford to take lessons if I boarded him with The Instructor....and there may or may not be space for him. STA calmed me down and said I could keep him at her place until I decided on where he was to be housed.
At STA's suggestion, I approached the owner of a local riding facility 15 minutes further than where The Instructor was located. The owner, LA, has been riding since she was a small child, she has competed, trained horses for competition and has instructed at all levels. As it turns out, I knew someone who boarded at this place and gave it a glowing recommendation. The environment at LA's facility was geared towards the horse's well-being. It was a little more rustic than I was used to, but the place was spotless and orderly. I liked seeing the horses freely walking around. I liked that she did not use barbed wire fencing. The board rates were excellent and the lesson rates were competitive. The herd was made up of quarter horses, appaloosas and paints with access to 70 acres. HE would be the only one of his breed. This was a "Western" environment; there were only 2 other boarders that rode English. Smiling, she said, "We won't hold that against you."
HE arrived at his new home the next day and as he stepped off the trailer, I could see LA's eyes widen. "He's a big one, isn't he. I think he's a little bigger than 16.0hh" "Really??" The measuring tape came out - HE came in just shy of 16.2hh. I regretted asking. LA estimated his weight around 1500 lbs. HE was anxious and it took a minute to get him settled in a stall. His routine for the next few weeks would be a few hours day of paddock time on his own and then HE would be slowly introduced to the mixed herd. HE was anxious to meet his new friends.
I went back to The Instructor and told him that I had found another place to house my boy and thanked him for all of his help. We parted on good terms.
My riding buddy, Jean, was going to take lessons with me at the new place. She asked if I would come and watch her last lesson with The Instructor. Everyone was excited to see me and hear about my boy. As I was watching Jean's lesson, I noticed a man standing at the entrance of the barn, looking a bit lost. I asked if he needed assistance. He was new and having his first lesson that night. It turned out that GM was to be his mount. I showed him where the tack was and then took him to meet GM. I gave GM a nice rub as I told him about the lessons and then slipped her halter on and put her in the cross-ties. I told him how great GM was for building confidence and how smooth her ride was and how much she taught me. Then I heard myself saying "Stop and say hi to her and then ease into it. Respect her. Don't rush her.....". When I was showing him how to tack up, GM was the perfect lady. I think she knew I wasn't coming back and it was her way of a "gift", a last memory. As he was donning his helmet, I wished him luck, I deeply breathed in GM's smell for the last time, gave her a gentle rub around her eyes and walked away.
GM and me.
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
I had done some research on the Canadian breed before our road trip. I am embarrassed to say that, as a Canadian myself, I didn’t realize that we actually had a national horse breed.
Excerpt from Wikipedia: The Canadian Horse is a breed of horse developed in Canada. Although previously relatively unknown due to its rarity, the Canadian Horse has influenced many other North American breeds, including the Morgan, American Saddlebred, and Standardbred. Although there have been several times when the breed almost went extinct, now the Canadian Horse has many enthusiasts within and outside of Canada. The Canadian Horse gave rise to the Canadian Pacer, which has had a profound impact on many of the gaited breeds of today. On April 30, 2002, a bill was passed into law by the Canadian Government making the Canadian Horse an official symbol of Canada.
Beautiful, tall, slim and blonde (of course) Megan, who was decked out in dressage gear, greeted us enthusiastically and we walked down to the paddock where HE was now trotting around and kicking up his heels. As he came up to the fence I started to have a bit of anxiety. He was big! As a matter of fact, he was massive. I had prepared myself for a horse that was tall and built like the jumpers I was used to seeing where I took lessons. HE was a lot heavier, with a solid build and feet the size of side plates.
Megan slipped the halter on him and up we went to the barn. I asked if I could tack up alone. Holy crap, HE was big. But HE was very patient and showed interest in what I was doing. I brushed him from head to toe. What a work out! Taller and bigger than GM, I really had to stretch and reach to do a good job. HE was very well behaved. No Chicken Dance required here! I only had to tap his leg and HE lifted it for me so I could clean his hoof. I lifted my saddle up....and up...just a little higher.... It was elevated just about over my head when I placed it on his back. The girth extender was let out as far as it could go. I had to stand on my tippy toes to adjust everything. At this point, I met his owner. As we shook hands she started to cry. I comforted her and we walked him out to the paddock together.
STA and I watched Megan put him through his paces – she loved my saddle. :-) His transitions were lovely and smooth and he was very responsive to her leg. STA then got on him and was deliberately bouncy and yanked at the bit, pretending that she was me. :-) He did not react, he just went with it. Then my turn. My heart was pounding. I was really, REALLY, REALLY high off the ground. The colour drained from my face. STA was right beside me, quietly saying “Breathe. In. Out. I won’t leave your side until you are ready.” Eventually, I was able to walk him around on my own and actually got him up to a trot a couple of times. His size did intimidate me, but I loved the intelligence and kindness in his eyes.
We spent a couple of hours around him. I turned him out, and as I was locking the gate behind me, STA came up to me and basically said that if I didn’t buy this horse I was an idiot. Other than being quite a bit bigger than what we were initially looking for, he had everything on the wish list. She also felt that he would provide me with subtle challenges that could only improve my riding capabilities; he was not push-button.
We both walked back to the barn and talked to the owner and Megan. The deal was made, tears were shed, a date for the pre-purchase exam was agreed on and STA and I were back on the road. I was silent in the car for the first 5 minutes. I was trying to absorb what had just taken place. STA looked at me and said, “You just bought your own horse. YOU JUST BOUGHT YOUR OWN HORSE! WHOO HOO!!!!” There must have been about 1000 butterflies in my stomach. I looked at her and quietly said, “I own my own horse. Ho-ly crap.”
What was I thinking….?
Thursday, December 3, 2009
I decided I wanted a been-there-done-that gelding, ”easy keeper”, barefoot, between the ages of 8-14 and that was going to be able to carry a round person. STA agreed with my wish list. I came close a few of times of making the wrong decision, but fortunately STA was the (screaming) voice of reason.
Me: "I test rode this horse (gorgeous 15.0hh Norwegian Fjord), and have had the pre-purchase exam. He was listed as a great trail horse, but also rides English. The vet says he looks like he may have some slight tendon issues in his right front leg because he shows some sensitivity over time doing circles to the right. Other than that, he's great! What do you think?"
STA: "Are you planning on having your lessons doing circles to the left only?"
Me: "I see your point."
STA: "You need to learn how to ride. Let him find a home where he can just do trail riding. Walk away."
Me: “What about this handsome Palamino? Has everything except he has mild COPD.”
STA: "Based on my personal experience, a horse with COPD has good days and bad. He is not an "easy keeper". If you were the primary caregiver on a daily basis, you may be able to manage this. But you won’t be. Walk away."
Me: "What about this beautiful dun mare? She was trained but hasn’t been ridden in a few years because she’s been a brood mare."
STA: "You are not experienced enough to re-train her. Walk away."
Me: "OK, this guy has everything!"
STA: "He only has 30 days of professional training."
Me: "I know! Professional training; great, eh?"
STA: "He's green broke, not a horse that has been-there-done-that. Walk away."
And so it went - sigh.
One night, I happened upon a newly posted ad for a registered Canadian gelding. There he was, a glory of blackness with a white spot on his forehead. A childhood memory presented itself...Black Beauty! Here he was staring back at me from inside my computer screen. MY Black Beauty? I immediately started an email communication with the lovely young woman, Megan, who was selling him for the owner.
“He is 8 years old and his owner is a 45-year old woman who’s circumstances have changed dramatically and she can no longer keep him. She used him for trail riding, but I use him occasionally for lessons. He rides English or Western. He is smart and needs to be ridden regularly so he doesn’t get bored. He is used to living outside. When there are bad storms he comes in if he has too. I used him in a lesson with an older man one year. He hadn't been on a horse in like 30 years and needed to start right from scratch. He was so good and patient with him. And this man was really rough on him. Not intentionally but just cause he was learning again. I would have to say I have never been more proud of him! He has always been barefoot and only needs good quality grass hay. He is an easy keeper.”
What??? Trail riding. English or Western. Easy keeper. Barefoot. Is OK with beginners. Has had old people ride him. HE sounded PERFECT. Oh, BTW, how tall is HE??? What? Around 16.0hh??!! Holy crap! “But HE doesn’t feel big when you are on him.” she says, “You feel secure.”
OK, so really, the difference between 15.0hh and 16.0hh is only 4 inches. Really, what’s the big deal? I confer with my horse expert to see if he was worth the 6 hour drive for a look-see. Road trip!! Yipee!!!
What was I thinking……..
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
Google became my new best friend. I had no idea the power of its search capability! I felt empowered. I researched horses, vet and farrier costs, the definition of“easy keeper”, and the pros and cons of going barefoot. I learned about backyard breeders and conformation faults (thank you Fugly Horse of the Day!! www.fuglyblog.com). Amazingly, I could do all of this work while stretched out on my sofa watching my television shows or having a vodka soda, thanks to the laptop my husband bought me for my birthday. I was letting my fingers do the walking (that was an old Yellow Pages tag line for those too young to remember!).
Out of the blue, a friend I had lost contact with found me on Facebook. STA has been riding for over 20 years and was thrilled that I was taking lessons. I spent the afternoon at her place hanging out in the barn with her three horses, mucking out, talking, grooming, and feeding. She found it amusing that I had no issues with getting dirty. Her passion for horses was mesmerizing. I saw first-hand some of the health issues and special needs of an elderly horse (digestive and breathing in this case). "Do you think I am crazy for considering getting my own horse at this stage in my life?" I asked. "Go for it!" was the reply. I was elated. She explained the good, the bad and the ugly of horse ownership. I appreciated her frankness about being a responsible owner and her enthusiastic support of my mid-life adventure (crisis?).
I believe STA came back into my life for a reason. It was fate. Getting a horse was meant to be. Perhaps I had been sending out signals through the airwaves. All I knew was that I was grateful that I now had someone who was willing to be my sanity check when I was being insane. Let the search begin!
What was I thinking....?
Thursday, November 26, 2009
GM's tummy was a tad too big for the regular girth that came with the saddle. Unfortunately for GM (or maybe fortunately) they don't make Spanx for horses. Off I went to get an extender. This little device added an extra 5 inches to the girth and hid discretely under the saddle flap. No need for GM to be embarrassed!
I did not want to risk having one of the younger students taking my new saddle out for a spin when I wasn’t there, so I took it home with me after each lesson and stored it in my basement. Carrying it up and down the stairs was a work out for me in the beginning and walking back and forth from the car with it was also taxing. But, over time it became easier. Could it be that I was actually starting to get some flexibility and muscle tone???
My new saddle made me realize how my body was changing....subtle changes, but changes none the less. It occurred to me that I wasn’t dropping the girth as often when I was carrying it back and forth. I wasn't banging my fingers on the gate when I opened and shut it while holding the saddle in my arms. The weight of my new piece of leather used to pitch me forward, causing me to stumbled down the pathway. No longer an issue; my coordination was improving. Eventually, I could easily lift my saddle up and gently place it on GM's back. My saddle measured improvement, but it also highlighted problem areas. After a few months of using my saddle, I noticed that the leather was wearing in certain places from the stirrup straps rubbing against it, an indication that my legs were not as "quiet" as they should be. Having a beautiful expensive saddle did not guarantee that my riding skills would improve.
After I got my saddle, I went out and bought my own grooming supplies - assorted brushes and combs, hoof pick, sponge - and a carrying case to put it all in. I purchased my own red crop, saddle pad and a halter; basic black, of course. I upgraded my boots, bought beautiful insulated riding gloves and a neck warmer. I was now able to carry my saddle AND my grooming supplies back and forth in one go. One day when I was grooming GM, one of the boarders at the stables noticed all of my supplies and my gorgeous saddle and said “Geez, you need your own horse to go with all that stuff!” The seed was planted.
What was I thinking….?
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
Initially, I wore T-shirts, a pair of black stretchy flared pants and regular under garments to riding lessons. I soon discovered that, for the first time in my life, I needed a SPORTS BRA!! I was quite excited about this. I proudly consulted a couple of my jogger friends on what I should be looking for and started my search. It became apparent fairly quickly that women with breasts larger than a “D” cup were not meant to be doing sports of any kind. I fell into this category. I went to my specialty bra store and, yes, they had one model that came in gynormous sizes. It was probably the most unattractive bra I had ever seen – it looked like the pointy model that Madonna used to wear in the 90’s. But, it fit.
My black stretchy flared pants didn’t actually offer any protection to my calves from the stirrup straps. I always had bruises on my legs. I went to my local tack store and after trying on 10 pairs, I purchased a pair of basic black breeches that had a medium amount of elasticity to help stop my thighs from jiggling.
Getting dressed for my next lesson almost killed me. My sports bra was extremely tight. Made sense – it had to hold everything in place. I had to fasten it from the front and twist it around my body. What kind of torture device was this?! I am sure it chaffed off skin as I pulled it around my body. The shoulder straps had no elasticity. I held out one of the very taunt straps and put my other arm through. With great effort, I started to pull the strap up my arm and on to my shoulder. My hand slipped and flew back and hit me in between my eyes at the bridge of my nose with such force that I was knocked back and saw stars. After I wiped the tears from my eyes, I unwrapped my new breeches.
My new breeches seemed a lot tighter than I remembered. I pulled and stretched and pulled and stretched. Did a little jumping up and down dance and they were on. It was almost as bad as putting on control-top pantyhose. I now basically had an elastic band around my midriff in addition to an elastic band around my rib cage. I broke out into a sweat and realized that I couldn’t breathe. My sports bra kept my breasts in place, but it did not allow me to get a lungful of air. I was starting to hyperventilate. I calmed myself down and put on my slightly fitted T-shirt, which accentuated all of the rolls created by the bands that now surrounded my body.
As I walked out the door with my pointy Madonna breasts, my non-jiggly thighs and my neck still slightly damp from sweat, I realized that I would suffer just about any discomfort to be able to ride.
What was I thinking…..?
Friday, November 13, 2009
Putting the bridle on GM was becoming the most stressful part of my riding experience. After going through the Chicken Dance while grooming and putting the saddle on her, I could feel myself getting more and more anxious as the time approached to put on the bridle. I was terrified that those large teeth were going to connect with one of my fingers. Snap, snap! I was grateful that I was able to tack her up in her stall because I felt better about the fact that she couldn’t run off while I fumbled with the halter then the bridle. I knew what I was supposed to do and, in reality, she was pretty darn patient in this area. But, I would work myself up into such a tizzy that my fingers would not work. It didn't help matters that I couldn't actually see what I was doing - magnifying reading glasses were not part of my ensemble. I would end up poking her in the eyes or banging the bit into her teeth or try to put the bridle on backwards. The pressure was on. My classmates would be walking by GM's stall on their way to the arena. I'm late! I would eventually panic and ask for help.
Word got around about what a baby I was about the bridle and how intimidated I was by GM. One day the barn manager told me she would help me get GM ready for my lesson. We entered the stall. As GM started to turn, the barn manager quickly put her arm under GM’s jaw and softly stopped her from turning. Then she quietly started scratching GM behind her ears, slowly down her neck and withers all the way to the base of her tail. She found a sweet spot on GM’s rump. GM's body started to relax and she was totally glazed over. I think I heard her sigh!! The barn manager continued scratching her for about 10 minutes. The saddle and bridle went on without incident. I was in awe. No begging, no carrots. “You wouldn’t want someone barging into your space during dinner and throwing a saddle on you, would you? Stop and say hi and then ease into it. Don't rush her. Respect her.”
I came 20 minutes earlier than usual the next time. There was no activity in the barn, other than the munching of horses eating. I stood just inside the stall and talked to GM for a while and let her continue eating. Her ears twitched. She was listening to me natter away! She did not show me her butt. Then I started to slowly scratch her all over. No Chicken Dance. No cross-ties. No begging. No carrots.
This exercise was supposed to be for her, but I think I benefited from it more. Taking that extra 20 minutes for quiet time with GM helped me calm down after a busy day at work. I could feel the stress leaving my body, my mind started to clear. In some ways, it was almost as good as having a vodka soda - almost!! She did not attempt to bite me that evening, or any other time after that. There were still times she thought about it....but she didn't. Old habits die hard. We had reached a mutual understanding. Another lesson learned.
Not having to do the Chicken Dance or beg someone to help me with the bridle was a BIG boost to my confidence. I think GM felt the difference because she seems to be a little less grumpy with me. Unfortunately, this exercise did not eliminate her need to pin her ears back and kick if one of the other horses got too close during lesson. My vise-like thighs still came in handy!
What was I thinking…..?
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
Abby was being used for some lessons. This was to help burn off some of her energy and to socialize her. I was to ride her during my Wednesday evening class through the winter months. I was thrilled!
She was slightly smaller than GM. She stood very nicely when I mounted, and allowed me to get comfortable. She was pleasant! "Walk on!" She sort of pranced. I wasn't used to all of the movement, but it was nice. "TA-rot!" I applied a whisper of leg contact and....she was off! She was unable to break into a canter because of all of the other riders in the arena (thank God!), but she started passing the others in the arena doing a very fast, extended trot. It probably would have looked quite impressive if it hadn't been for me bouncing around on top of her like a rag doll. Thank goodness for sports bras! The Instructor was not impressed. The yelling and arm waving started.
As much as I was excited to be riding a horse other than GM, it didn’t take long for me to realize that I could not continue riding Abby. Even with learning how to "Milk the Cow" it was a challenge. Abby just wanted to run.....all the time! Milking the cow helped, but it wasn't the solution and I certainly wasn't the person qualified to help her transition into a "broke" horse. She was not push-button like GM. I found that I spent the whole lesson just trying to keep Abby under control. It wasn’t pleasant for me and I am sure it wasn’t pleasant for her. I felt frustrated and inadequate.
Riding Abby was a really important learning experience for me. If Abby had been available, I would have purchased her basically on how pretty she was! I would have spent a lot of time being frustrated and she would not have benefited from my lack of experience. Riding her made me realize that your horse companion must be suited to your current AND future abilities. Having a horse companion is a 20+ year commitment, so you need to be able to enjoy and challenge each other for the duration. I was also able to see, first-hand, the difference between an older, experienced, broke horse and a young, feisty, green-broke one.
I went back to riding GM for both of my weekly lessons. It was a relief to get back into the routine with her. It wasn’t fulfilling, but I knew what to expect. My experience with Abby did, however, make me realize that I wanted more from the riding experience.
What was I thinking……?
Friday, November 6, 2009
Thank goodness there was an indoor arena. It was quite well insulated and it was great to be able to take lessons out of the wind and cold. As it got cooler, The Instructor started to combine lesson groups so he would cut down the number of lessons he had to teach in the cold. He reminded us regularly that he was looking forward to the warmth of his Caribbean condo after Xmas.
At one point, we had 8 in our lessons. In addition, there were some boarders who joined our lessons so that they could get arena time to exercise their horses. The advantage of having so many packed into the arena was the warmth that was generated from body heat. It was very comfortable. The disadvantage was that I was nervous of all the activity going on around me and I couldn't hear The Instructor. GM did not cope well with the additional activity.
As the horses started to sweat, steam would come off their bodies creating a haze in the arena. When lessons were done, they would be wrapped up in their wool blankets to cool down.
As the holiday season approached, it was suggested that we should coordinate a synchronized drill to show at the little Xmas party The Instructor was going to host in the observation lounge. He explained that it was a pot luck and it was usually well attended by the boarders and their families. Sounded like fun.
Organizing the drill was painful. Everyone had their own idea of what the drill should be and it was pandemonium. Strangely, The Instructor was not participating. He felt that the drill should be a reflection of what the beginners had learned over the last few months, so it was up to us to come up with a routine. The result was lots of yelling, disagreements and horses bucking and kicking. There were 12 of us participating. With all of the drama going on, I was starting to loose interest. The horses could certainly feel the tension. It was during a "pile up" at one end of the arena during a practice that my riding buddy, Jean, ate dirt. Unfortunately for Jean, GM acted out against Jean's horse and to avoid being kicked, her horse zigged and Jean zagged. Two other riders ate dirt during the warm up, prior to our performance. I almost ate dirt, but discovered that, even though I was still round, my thighs could now grip like a vise and I managed to stay on. Our performance was certainly not perfect and it was a little embarrassing. But, we did it and we had a good laugh. I found out later from The Instructor that this drill was put on every year by beginners as a sort of comedy show for the guests. I wasn't sure how to take that.
The Instructor left for his Caribbean hideway a couple of weeks later. We continued our lessons through the winter months with another instructor. Her style was much more of a teacher than a trainer.
During the winter months, I learned two valuable lessons from our new instructor. "Don't kill the birds!" and "Milk the cow!" I had a tendency to really grip the reins and hang on to them for dear life. My new instructor told me to imagine holding birds in my hands to soften my grip. This was a great visual for me, and it worked most of the time. Every once and a while she would yell down the arena to me "Don't kill the birds! You are killing the birds!" Classmates who didn't know what was going on would give me dagger looks - "What?! You're killing birds?!"
When I was riding Abby for some of my lessons, I was having a really hard time keeping her in check. The new instructor gave me a new exercise to try with her; milking the cow. I was to hold the birds in my hands, and at the same time gently pull up on one rein and then the other while trotting; milking the cow. When the new instructor saw Abby starting to get away from me, she would yell "Don't kill the birds!! Milk the cow!! Now!" Again, the strange looks from my classmates. However, this movement really worked on slowing Abby down most of the time. I took lessons on Abby for about a month, but eventually went back to riding GM for both of my weekly lessons.
I survived winter. The horrible driving conditions, the darkness, the snow and ice on the walkways and parking lot, the freezing temperatures, and snow piled high. I learned how to Milk the Cow and how not to the Kill the Birds. For the first time ever, I dressed for the function and not for the look...well, my outfits were still colour coordinated, of course! I wore 5 layers of clothing that made my round body look square...and I didn’t care! If I had fallen on the ice, I wouldn’t have felt a thing with all the padding I had on. I forced myself out the warmth of my home each lesson day, just so I could spend time at the stables with a horse that really didn’t care if she ever saw me again.
What was I thinking….?
Thursday, October 29, 2009
Dismounting was the same challenge in reverse. However, there was the added component of slipping your left foot out of the stirrup before you hit the ground. “Remain upright and turn!” Fail. “Swing your right leg over, clearing her body!” Fail. “Lean your stomach against the saddle!” OK, I could actually do this part. “Kick your left foot out of the stirrup and gently slide down!” In trying to kick my left foot out of the stirrup, I pitched myself forward, tipping myself over the top of the saddle. My head was fast approaching the ground, my arms flailing about and my legs were sticking up in the air. Fortunately, The Instructor was able to grab my arse and pull me back into position before I did a head plant on the opposite side of GM. I stood in front of him and my classmates, pulled up my breeches.... and then started to laugh.
I soon realized that wearing oversized T-shirts was not the best fashion statement for someone who was mount/dismount challenged. My T-shirt would become entangled in straps and stirrups as I slid down GM's body, exposing my blue/white belly and super duper sports bra to anyone looking my way.
What was I thinking…..?
Monday, October 26, 2009
The Instructor taught, but was also a business man who owned the facility. Just about everything had some sort of service charge, if you were a boarder. Except his coffee! He made delicious coffee and would generously offer it to everyone after lesson.
The Instructor had a good reputation with horses. He understood them and they understood him. I admired the ease in which he was able to communicate what he wanted from them. I discovered that 95% of the boarders owned horses that he had purchased for them. Not one person I spoke to were actually involved with the purchase of their horse; The Instructor did everything. I couldn’t believe it. They had complete faith in The Instructor to make the right decision for them and believed that having him find their horse and handle the purchase took the stress out of it.
My lessons were progressing (slowly), but I was committed and signed up for winter lessons. The Instructor was getting frustrated with me. My body weight and shape were always mentioned and I was told regularly that I should be more committed to getting into shape. These comments bothered me. I kept reminding him that I was NEVER going to jump and I was NEVER going to compete; I just wanted to stay on the horse, be safe, and go out on the trail. I didn't need to be tall, slim and blonde! He never quite got that. A friend, who knew him, explained that he was a trainer not a teacher. That explained a lot. He was really good with riders that were already trained and needed to get ready for a competition, but not so good with teaching the basics.
Despite some of the body image negativity, I had a good time and enjoyed my lessons. I was captivated by his stories about the horses he had ridden and the horse people in the area. It was obvious that horses were his life and he was a gentle and caring owner. He romanticized the bond with a horse. I wanted some of that magic, that feeling of delight and connection.
What was I thinking…..?
Friday, October 16, 2009
I couldn’t wait to get to the stables. There is a certain child-like freedom in stepping in muck and getting dirty. The smell of the hay and manure as I pulled into the parking lot would get my heart racing. It’s unfortunate that the smell permeated my clothing, my hair, my car. Febreeze became my new best friend.
After a month or so of private lessons, I was allowed to join a group lesson. I think my instructor was getting a bit fed up with my lack of progress and needed other distractions. I loved being in the adult group lesson! I got to meet other people who were beginners like me. I was the oldest “beginner”, with the average age around 30. Needless to say, they were in much better shape than I.
My introduction to the group was memorable. “Hello! Hello! I am new!” My classmates were already mounted, warming up. They were courteous but cautious. I led GM into the paddock and stood with her, feeling like an idiot, while everyone else walked or trotted around me. I was waiting for my instructor to hold GM, as she had a tendency to move when you mounted. My impatience got the better of me and I positioned the mounting block next to her, got on it and put my foot in the stirrup. True to form, GM took two steps forward before I could complete getting on her. I got off the block, repositioned it, stepped back up and put my foot in the stirrup. Again, GM walked two steps forward before I had a chance to fully engage the stirrup and mount. I swear I could see her smirking at me. Well, I was not going to be outsmarted by her Highness! So, I positioned the mounting block a little AHEAD of the normal position, stepped up on the block and basically catapulted myself into the stirrup and saddle as she started walking away. So close…..
My plan would have worked except for one minor detail. The damn girth. Tack 101 – check the girth before you mount!!! The saddle slowly slipped down GM’s side as the full weight of my body was applied to the stirrup. It came to rest pretty well under her belly. Excruciating pain ripping through my right leg as I tried to avoid tripping on the mounting block. GM was walking away with me hopping beside her, my foot still in the stirrup, my arms flailing around. Nice. A classmate did eventually come to my rescue, got me untangled, repositioned the saddle and got me on GM before my instructor came out. Whew!
My right leg was killing me. I could not put any pressure on it. I managed to fake my way though the class, always positioning myself behind my instructor so he couldn’t see me. By the time I got home, my leg was quite swollen. I iced it and elevated it for a couple of days, but realized that I needed to see a professional. Physio for a month and no riding! Crap.
What was I thinking…..?
Thursday, October 8, 2009
I arrived early for my first session, looking very professional decked out in my new attire. My instructor introduced me to GM, the horse I would be riding. She was a soft brown colour with black mane and tail and, thankfully, very sturdy looking. GM and I checked each other out and, you know, I could tell right away that she was not fussy about having to work; it was beneath her. She demonstrated her disdain over and over again in the coming months.
First, we led GM out of her stall and put her in cross-ties. She was beautiful. My instructor showed me how to brush her. I have dogs and thought this would be a piece of cake. I placed my hand on her side and felt the strength underneath. Wow. I lightly ran my hand down her shoulder, breathing in her smell. What was that? What the heck??! She tried to bite me... several times! "Is that normal?" I asked. "Use your elbows to discourage her. She's testing you," was the response. As I did my interpretation of the Chicken Dance while brushing her, I was left wondering when the test would end. It never did.
Our relationship was a strained one. She would turn her back to me when I entered her stall, she would try to bite me when I put the saddle on her, she would struggle with me when I tried to put the bridle on her. The snapping of her teeth as I moved around her would cause me to jump. If there was food in her stall, she would become possessive (I swear I could hear her growling when I entered!!). Sometimes she would start to encroach on my space while we were in the stall until I was eventually pushed up against the wall. For someone who suffers with claustrophobia, it was not an ideal situation! The bridle always made me particularly nervous. GM had to be coaxed to take the bit and I was terrified that she was going turn carnivorous and snack on one of my fingers. Over time, I was able to incorporate the saddle and bridle into my Chicken Dance routine.
The equipment, or tack as it's called by those in the biz, was pretty basic; saddle with stirrups, girth, and bridle. You know, an English saddle is basically a little piece of leather that sits on the horse’s back and held in place by a strap. I was seriously concerned that my butt was not going to fit on this little piece of leather. Strangely, for a little piece of leather it seemed to weigh about 50 lbs. when I tried to lift it up and on to GM's back.
My instructor assured me that I would not have to try and lift my leg up to ear level to reach the stirrups; there was a mounting block. Whew! I stepped into the stirrup from the mounting block, swung my leg over (kicking GM in the process) and I was up and on her. What a thrill to finally sit on a horse! How wonderful! How exciting! Wow.....am I ever high off the ground. I didn’t realize it was so high. “How tall is this horse?” “She’s 15.0 or 15.1.” OK, breathe. It’s not that far to the ground if you fall. Fall? Am I going to fall???! Breathe!!!
My lessons were a mixture of excitement and terror. GM tolerated them, at best. I became used to her nastiness when tacking up; at least she was consistent. Because it was getting busier at the stables, I actually tacked up in her stall, which allowed me to do my Chicken Dance without the humiliation of others seeing me. She was a big draft cross and was actually a very smooth ride. She was so used to the routine of the lessons, that the instructor just had to yell the command and she obeyed. Walk on! TA-rot! Every once and a while she would give me attitude, just to remind me who was boss (she was, of course). She knew EXACTLY when 45 minutes were up and would not cooperate a minute longer other than walk for a few minutes to cool down before going back to her stall. Our relationship was quite simple. She gave me attitude, allowed me sit on her, gave me more attitude and I rewarded her bad behaviour by giving her carrots.
Something that I was not prepared for was the actual physical part of the riding experience and the reluctant awakening of muscles that I did not know existed in my body. Anyone who thinks you just sit on a horse has never really ridden. Even with GM responding to verbal commands, I still had to use my legs and "core" muscles (which were very teeny tiny) to stay on and steer. When I was on GM, I felt like my body was being pulled apart. I ached from one week to the next.
What was I thinking…??
Thursday, October 1, 2009
A couple of years ago, after my husband and I were talking about our future retirement plans, I realized that I didn’t have anything to keep myself busy once I stopped working. Apparently, shopping and beautification doesn’t count. So, I started looking for an activity that would be social and keep me active until I was carted out in a pine box.
Cooking? Hubby already has that area covered and I have the waist line to prove how good he is! Gardening? Sure, but it gets boring after Spring. Already enjoy a monthly Book Club and already belong to a Ladies Club that meets every couple of months. Tried activities with my dogs, but I found it very competitive, which I am not.
I tried golfing, thinking that I could spend time with my husband. Hated it. What’s with all that walking, sweating, and suffering the heat? And shorts are not a good look for me. Although, I have to say, I didn’t mind sipping a nice cool alcoholic beverage on the patio of the clubhouse afterwards. But sitting on a patio, sipping a vodka soda and watching others golf was not quite what I had in mind as my activity.
What about learning how to play Bridge? My parents love Bridge and have had some great Bridge weekend parties. The only card game I know is Crazy 8’s, but I thought “how difficult could it be?” Well, it’s difficult. Way too difficult for me.
Just when I thought I may have to resort to taking up quilting, some friends were talking about horseback riding camp for their kids. Horseback riding? Why not?! Galloping on a great steed, the wind blowing through my hair…..SOLD!
What was I thinking….???